Kathleen Elkins '10 Blazes New Trail
It seems like just yesterday when a small-framed, shy, freckle-faced girl named Kathleen Elkins showed up on Woodlawn's campus. That was in the early days of Woodlawn, two thousand and three to be exact. The school was in just its second year, and Kathleen was in the sixth grade. It wasn't long before she began to make a name for herself here at Woodlawn and beyond. A nationally ranked tennis player (then and now), you could also find Kathleen in true Trailblazer form on the cross-country trails and eventually on the track (she still holds the girls cross country 5k school record). She excelled in both athletics and academics, graduating from Woodlawn with summa cum laude honors in 2010. It was a significant moment in the history of Woodlawn—she and Chad Raines (St. Johns, '14) would forever be remembered as the two who blazed the trail for all future Woodlawn grads. “I had an incredible experience as a middle schooler, and I could not imagine going to school anywhere else for the next four years — I thrived in the small classroom environment where creativity and curiosity were encouraged,” explains Kathleen on her choice to stay through high school. “Looking back (and I did not realize this at the time), Woodlawn truly shaped me into who I am today — much of my personality and who I grew to be can be credited to Woodlawn.”
"When I tell my friends in college that I graduated with one other person, they get all excited and say things like 'No Way!' and 'Is it a homeschool?' and I explain to them that, no, it's not a homeschool and it sits on something like 60 acres and all, and then they grab their phones and start to google Woodlawn to make sure I am not kidding," jokes Kathleen. "It's a great conversation starter for sure.”
Fast forward four years later to present day, and you'll now find her still a small-framed nationally ranked tennis star, but with a sort of confidence and excitement that comes with the type of recognition she's earned. A 2014 graduate of Williams College with quite a few accolades to her name, she still is mostly smiles and laughs, and she's filled with happy anticipation of what's yet to come, just like she was way back when she left Woodlawn in 2010. "I grew up in Davidson and I went to a small liberal arts school in Williamstown," says Kathleen. "Now I am moving to Boston! I'll be living in a city with tons of things to do." Kathleen has signed on with Tenacity, a nonprofit that works with inner city youth. A one-year stint called "Coach Across America" involves working in the classroom and the tennis court with middle and high school kids. "It's really a perfect fit for me," says Kathleen. "I will get coaching certified in the process of this one-year program which is really cool."
The Coach Across America program also has another great perk: she'll get a stipend to further her education at the graduate level. "I definitely want to go back to school at some point and this gets me there a little faster without worrying about paying off loans and grad school tuition," she admits. "And I'll have all sorts of classes from Harvard to pick from." A Spanish major, Kathleen's not exactly sure if that's where her advanced degree ambitions will take her. "I'm actually really interested in journalism, specifically sports writing," says Kathleen. "I ended up working for the Sports Information Center at Williams and my first assignment was to write about women's ice hockey, which I knew nothing about!" But like anything Kathleen does, it usually ends up working out in her favor. Just two years after she started writing, she was awarded the prestigious Frank Deford Sports Award, an award given annually to top student Sports Information Assistant(s). "That year (that I won) ended up being the 25th annual award and so Frank Deford actually presented the award to me! We got to eat dinner at the president's house and it was a really great experience," said Kathleen. "Plus, I discovered that I really enjoy sports writing! It's not something I thought about ever doing."
"I was one of those kids who went into college thinking, 'Am I the only one who doesn't know what I want to study?'" admits Kathleen. "Everyone seemed to have a plan and so I sort of hopped on the premed track. During my sophomore year I figured out that was not something I wanted to pursue after a summer of hospital rotations." Kathleen says it was a weight lifted off her shoulders once she switched gears and started taking things that were interesting instead of required. "I started taking really cool classes like the History of Soccer and Cycles of Socialization," she says. "I'd never have gotten to take those if I were on the premed track." Her junior year, after declaring Spanish her major, she did a semester abroad in Valencia, Spain, coincidentally just 50 miles south of the hometown of tennis star, Rafael Nadal. If you know Kathleen even vaguely you know she's the biggest fan of Rafa Nadal. Her classmates can attest that they were all converted to Rafa fans whether or not they wanted it. "I recall vividly the perpetual love for Raphael Nadal and the vitriol spewed towards Roger Federer,” remembers classmate Chad. “If it weren't for Kathleen, I would not have become acquainted with Nadal, the movie Hairspray, or the show Gilmore Girls. For better or worse (I'm looking at you, Hairspray,) I am thankful.”
"Yeah, I am still obsessed with Rafa," laughs Kathleen. "I've visited his home twice while studying abroad, and attended a retirement ceremony for (Juan Carlos) Ferrero that Rafa attended. I was so close to him I could almost touch his head!" And if that's not enough proof of her devotion to Rafa, Kathleen is quick to point out that she writes WWRD (What Would Rafa Do) on her hand before each tennis match. "One time I forgot to write it on my hand, and as my team all put their hands together before the start of the match my coach realized my WWRD was missing," says Kathleen. "She screamed and said 'Get a pen! We need a pen!’ My coach was a little superstitious.”
You’d never know it unless you asked, but she’s been a key player in three NCAA Division III national championship teams while at Williams (in her fourth year, her team finished third in the nation). Once you know that about her, it’s hard not to notice her purple-painted fingernails (Williams’ colors are purple and gold) or her gold watch and gold ring. Did we mention she’s a two-time singles All-American? She's that good. And that's where the gold watches and gold rings come in. "Yeah, they give us really cool stuff at Nationals," laughs Kathleen. "The nice thing is one year they gave us (the national champions) silver watches, so we had one silver and one gold." But she's quick to point out that the past four years were intense. "The NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) is so strong," says Kathleen. "It's very hard to advance into the (national) tourney. It's a lot of pressure. But now it is just so nice to relax and play doubles and just hit the ball without all the mental and physical preparation."
When asked of her life plans, Kathleen confidently says, "If there's one thing I learned about life, it's that things tend to work out even when you think they won't. I used to stress about declaring a major, I stressed about finding a job after college, and I stressed about what I want to do with my life. But the biggest benefit of going to a good, small liberal arts school is that you learn that you are prepared to do all sorts of things. I feel like I could have picked anything (major) and done ok. Think about what gets you excited and start there. Develop relationships with your professors. It's good to not know what you want to do sometimes. You figure it out the older you get, and everything usually comes together pretty nicely."
When asked about any other life goals, Kathleen just smiles and says, “I hope one day to go to Wimbledon and watch Rafa play.”